Sean woke up in an informal hostel somewhere deep in the 10th level of the Shaft. At this depth, he felt confident that the Agency would have no way to trace him using his tracking implants and network signature. There were hundreds of feet of steel and rock around him in all directions.
In the back of his mind, though, Sean knew that the odds that he was safe were growing longer by the hour. His team had done plenty of ops in the Shaft over the years. The only difference here was that signal intelligence was replaced by human intelligence, and the latter was quite effective for a skilled operator.
Sean had his guide Asam meet him outside the hostel around the mid day meal time to transport him down to the basement. Sean was dressed as if for a business meeting, wearing a nice dark colored jacket he had picked up yesterday over a brand new white shirt. Asam became very nervous when Sean told him where he was going that morning.
“I am afraid that you will be wanting another driver to take you to the Basement,” Asam said with a frown and a visible sense of disappointment.
Sean knew how hard it would be for Asam to let his client go now that he had invested so much time ferrying him about. “Look Asam, I have an invitation to meet with an old friend, you will be permitted to drive me to the meeting, there’s no way I’m walking back from the basement.” Sean knew it was a stretch, but he was just as worried that Asam would leave and that he might spread news of Seans whereabouts and his trip.
“Asam has tried before, twice. The last time was not so good …” he trailed off.
“Look, if you take me to the upper mines and wait at the lift, I’ll make it worth you time. I can probably get find my way from here to the lift and the rest of the way with out you, but I would be on my own getting back. I would much prefer a guide and a return trip.”
Asam shifted his posture and began to think. “How long will you be needing?”
“No more than 4 hours. 5 max.” Sean dug into his bag and pulled out a slab of rhodium that he had acquired in the market. Asam’s eyes grew wide, and he tensed up. “If you can wait on me until I return, I’ll give you the rhod on top of your normal fare.”
“Asam will take you, Asam will do it.”
“Just one more thing,” Sean’s voice grew quiet and he motioned for Asam to come closer. “I need you to be very careful about letting anyone know about this trip.”
Asam smiled, “Asam’s own mother will never know. Trust this, Asam does not want anyone knowing that Asam takes trips down there.” He punctuated this with a nervous laugh and began making little adjustments to the rickshaw.
“Good, thank you Asam. I will make sure you are well compensated.” With that Sean loaded up his belongings and climbed into the rick for a trip down into the heart, or rather bowels of the Shaft.
They set out towards the lower lifts a few moments later. Here at level 10, the lighting was still rather well maintained, the deck and bulkheads were the same dark gray steel. They were nearing the end of the market levels and were heading into the more industrial reaches of the Shaft.
As they rode the lower lift past levels 9 through 2 they saw all matter of people working. The central cylinder was busy with men cutting apart old machinery and hauling strange cargo up and down on cranes, chain hoists and temporary lift systems.
Much of the lower levels of the shaft were filled with all kinds of unknown technology. People seemed to agree that the abandoned tech was used to perform some kind of mining or refining chores, but none of it was familiar or matched any known mining or refining methodologies. After many years trying to understand it, the original pioneers of the Shaft had apparently given up and began to scrap it out. Hundreds of miles of pipes and cables along with an unmeasurable weight of machinery of all type were systematically cut apart with torches, ripped up with cranes and then parted out for sale to the rest of the planet and beyond.
The lift ended at the floor that had been dubbed ‘first floor’, since this was where the machinery and walls of the Shaft ended and bare rock took the place of the well polished floors. There were huge tunnels cut into the rock of the planet and tracks laid down for what once had been huge transport cars, but which now carried makeshift ferries. Most of the traffic now was from the ore mines, which were now still lightly worked by a few intrepid outfits.
Leading from the base of the Shaft near where the lift ended was a gigantic mass of cables and pipes bundled twice as tall as a man and four times as wide. It ran out from the Shaft several hundred meters across the rock to a gigantic hole and disappeared into the ground. Again, no one really knew why the mass of cable and pipes were routed into the ground below the Shaft, but the original explorers had traced it to a lower level constructed hundreds of meters below the first floor. They had dubbed it the Basement.
“I guess this is my stop,” Sean said as the rick came to a sudden halt near the stairs to the basement.
“Yes, Asam will be waiting back on the Second floor if you please. 5 hour.”
“That will be fine, thanks Asam.” Sean unloaded his gear, shouldered his bags, and walked around to the driver’s cab. He passed in the payment for the fare and smiled. “Thanks for the lift Asam, I’ll have the rhodium for you when I return. I’ll see you in 5 hours.”
“Asam wishes you luck. Goodbye.” The rick started up and sped off in the direction of the lift.
Sean stood there in the near total darkness. Just a few weak and scattered lights rigged up along the cable way marked the path back to the lift. Sean could make out Asam’s rick kicking up dust as it rode back to the lights of the lift. Sean glanced at his watch, 1100. If he was not back by 1600 he was sure Asam would not wait up for him.
Sean heard some voices and noticed lights from the stairwell. He lightly stepped around the back side of the cables which divided the wide cavern and which punctuated the ground beside the rough hewn stairwell.
”… have to unload that truck by himself next time. I’m tired of him laying out of work every week.” The speaker emerged and steps and voices trailed off in the direction that Sean had come from. Sean waited for a few minutes and then he removed his pack.
Sean retrieved his kit and switched his dimension frames to adaptive vision. He now had a very good view of his surroundings. He scanned the cavern and looked for a place to stash his things, two duffle bags full of gear, his backpack and a few other lose items. Off to the north he saw an opening in the wall that veered off to the north east. He quickly made his way in that direction and after scoping the passage way out a few dozen meters, he stashed most of his belongings in a cleft about shoulder high in the side of the passage way.
He took only his frames, a small bag and a grav knife. He then set up a remote det charge in the event that he did not make it back and needed to clean up his trail. Sean jogged back and took a deep breath before starting down the stairwell.
He made it to the first landing, which was empty and here he noticed a sensor array in the wall above the closed steel door to the passageway off of the landing. He stayed clear of the landing and continued down. The stairwell below the first landing was completely dark. He could see just fine with his frames, and he remembered the first time he had come down this stairwell. That time, he had been on an op to gather intelligence about the group who had claimed the basement and he had been posing as an off-world tech dealer.
He had kept up with most of his connections in the Basement over the years until they, one by one, had been either knocked off or had gone silent. The only member of the group he still had tabs on was a guy who went by Kanye. He had been a no-name gang member who had risen through the ranks of the clan and had apparently impressed a lot of folks in the leadership. Sean had not been in much communication the past few years, but he thought Kanye would at least be a starting point.
Sean heard a door slide open below him and he stopped. He waited and heard a few voices below him at the bottom of the stairwell. He had just decided to turn back for the upper landing when the door grated closed below. He clutched his knife and waited.
After a few moments, it was clear that no one was headed his way and he continued his descent. In a few moments he reached the last section of stairs which lead down to a dimly lit landing. Sean adjusted his belt, hid his knife and took the final steps at a slow and stead pace.
The rock stairwell gave way to a gleaming wall of steel which looked as if it had been freshly buffed and polished that morning. A steel doorway stood before him with a large metal door with no window. To the right, taped to the wall with large strips of duct tape was a single camera and a dangling call button.
Sean smiled at the camera, reached out pressed the button which rang a bell he could hear faintly through the doorframe. He placed his hand back at his side and struck his best business pose. In a few moments, the door slid open a few centimeters.
“What’s your business?”
“Chasing the stars at the end of the light,” Sean replied.
The voice muttered something and he waited. He heard someone place a call and could tell there was a terse exchange.
“That’s an old line, but apparently it’s still good. C’mon in.” The door slid open and Sean walked into the Basement.
The room behind the doorway was very well lit and two men sat at a metal table that looked strangely out of place in the gleaming room. The table had been welded together with no care for anything but durability. The men had food and papers spread out on the table. One sat casually behind the table with a blast gun pointed directly at Sean, the other leaned against the front of the table and had his arms crossed at his chest.
The guy in front of the table wore a large black overcoat, the temperature in the Basement was much lower than elsewhere in the Shaft he remembered. He sat there as if waiting on something. After a few moments he reached into his jacket and removed what looked like a small flashlight.
“I’ll be brief mate. Your code is old and we aint in the business of honoring any favors from the last regime - or debts for that matter.” The man made a large smile. “So let’s have out with your actual business and we will decide which way this goes, eh?”
“Kanye,” Sean said flatly.
The man’s eyebrows went up and he looked back to the man who had a blaster trained on Sean. The gunman shrugged and the interview turned back to face Sean.
“Last chance mate. Kanye don’t run the place any more.” The man clicked the flashlight on and off a few times absently. Sean knew it was a signal.
Sean reached up slowly and brushed an imaginary speck of dust off of his left shoulder. “Shame, he was such a nice guy.” Sean made no expression.
The man relaxed visibly and exhaled. “Right this way sir,” the speaker gestured to the left doorway which was now opening. The gunman set his piece off to the side and got back to his meal.
“Thank you.” Sean stepped lightly through the doorway and came to a counter built up in the center of the room. The counter was welded steel and cage and stood out like a barbaric creation in the midst of a room which looked like it had just been built yesterday.
The walls of the Basement transitioned smoothly with a small radius to the ceiling, as if they were milled out of a single piece. They were polished to an immense shine and there was no sign of any scuff or scratch anywhere in sight. The walls also flowed into the floor with a small radius where a corner would have been. The floors were tracked with dirt, but the shine of the metal could be seen untarnished below.
At the welded and slightly rusty counter Sean met a lady who slid back the grating with a grinding sound. “Morning’, do you have anything to declare sir?”
Sean set his small handbag on the counter and slid it gently across. He then placed his grav knife on the counter beside it. “Just these two items.”
She pulled out some papers and made a few notes then stood to examine the items. “I’ll hold onto the blade, would you mind opening the bag?”
“Certainly.” Sean opened the zipper and held the bag open for inspection. The lady moved a few things around with a slender pen and then sat to make a few more notes.
“Here you are sir, please sign here.” She handed Sean a ticket and passed him a paper to sign for his knife which she removed from the counter and walked back to place in a numbered bin.
Sean made a quick initial, zipped the bag and slid it off the counter. “Thanks.” He then walked down the wall to the gate.
The gate opened and Sean moved beyond the barricade into another room. This room had nice chairs and a few unmatched but elegant tables. The woman walked in through a doorway and made sure Sean knew where the lavatory was located. “I’ll call you when the meeting room opens up. There’s a few folks in there wrapping up just now.”
Sean nodded politely and sat down in a chair facing the doorway. He looked around the room while he waited. There was an inset groove which ran around the full length of the room at about head height. In places there was a light green stone like material, which looked as if it had been cut and placed in the slot in an apparently random pattern. Each section of stone was the same height and filled roughly 2cm high grove. The stone insets were spaced out with random spaces between the next section of stone. A few of the green stones glowed with a dim light which seemed to flicker when you looked straight at it.
Sean had heard a lot about what the current inhabitants of the Basement thought the place was. Some thought it was some kind of power station deep below the Shaft. Others thought it was a religious temple or some kind of architectural relic. Very few people had were aware of the place and even fewer had ever visited. Sean sat admiring the lightly glowing stones, when the woman appeared in the doorway.
“Mr. Bencher, right this way please sir.”
Sean stood and walked to the converted meeting space just down the hallway to the right. He walked into a room with a medium sized wooden table a few nice chairs and a few other sparse furnishings. He chose a seat, facing the door again, and stood facing the doorway.
“Would you like a coffee or tea? Some other beverage perhaps?”
“A coffee please, black.”
“Of course sir. Mr. East is on his way to see you now.”
Sean smiled and sat down.
Chapter 08 coming soon!